QUILL: THE LIFE OF A GUIDE DOG is a film by Yoichi Sai. Based on a true story, QUILL: THE LIFE OF A GUIDE DOG is the sweet tale of a yellow Labrador Retriever born with a curious mark on his side that resembles a bird spreading its wings. We follow Quill from the litter to his selection as a guide dog shortly after his first birthday. After training at a school for guide dogs, Quill is paired with a blind man named Watanabe who is reluctant to rely on him at first. But Quill’s great patience, gentleness and skill eventually win him over and they become inseparable friends.

Award-winning director Yoichi Sai started as an assistant director to Nagisa Ôshima, Masato Harada and others. MOSQUITO ON THE 10th FLOOR, his first feature film (presented at the 40th Venice International Film Festival) also won him the Sponichi Grand Prize New Talent Award at the Mainichi Film Awards. In the 1980’s, Sai directed a series of films including ITSUKA DAREKAGA KOROSARERU and KUROI DORESU NO ONNA for Japanese studio Kadokawa Haruki Jimusho. A SIGN DAYS (1989) brought him the Yokohama Film Festival Screenplay Award among other prizes, and his well-received 1993 film ALL UNDER THE MOON won him a dozen awards including Best Director, Film and Screenplay at the Kinema Junpo Awards. With BLOOD AND BONES Sai received Japanese Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Yoichi Sai currently serves as the President of the Japanese Directors Guild.


Born with a curious mark on his side resembling a bird spreading its wings, Labrador Retriever puppy Quill’s life as a normal dog drastically changes when he leaves his mother’s side to become a seeing-eye dog. He is sent to live with a couple, Isamu and Mitsuko Nii, who work as volunteer foster parents training seeing-eye dogs. There he basks fully in their love and spends his puppy days running around innocently and full of vigor. When he grows into an adult dog, he is taken to a guide dog school by a friendly, yet firm, trainer, Satoru Tawada. Little does he know that he will later meet the man who will become his owner/partner. Although Quill is a little slower than the other dogs at the school, he seems to have an unusual ’empathy’ and remarkable patience with his trainers. Tawade decides that Quill would be the ideal guide dog for Mitsuru Watanabe, but the lonely and ill-tempered middle-aged man isn’t as enthusiastic; he “would rather sleep than be dragged around by a dog.” Then an incident occurs that causes the seemingly completely incompatible man and dog to come to rely on each other. From here, the story is narrated by Watanabe’s daughter, Mitsuko, and slowly, Watanabe is rehabilitated, venturing into the outside world, and learning, not only to trust other humans, but the animal at his side who guides him.


Five Labrador Retrievers are born at a house in Tokyo. One of the puppies is easily identifiable from the rest at first sight. He has a curious pattern on his side that resembles a bird spreading its wings. The owner names him “Jonathan” and wants to make the puppies into seeing-eye dogs like their father. It is normally difficult for a dog to become a seeing-eye dog unless both parents had experience as “seeing-eye,” but as she continuously bugs the dog trainer Satoshi Tawada (Kippei Shiina), he reluctantly agrees to take only one of them. He chooses the easygoing Jonathan, as fast-reacting, emotionally expressive dogs are not fit to work as seeing-eye dogs.

Jonathan barks in protest when he must leave his mother and his brothers. Tawada takes Jonathan to a new home of volunteer “puppy-walkers” Isamu Nii (Teruyuki Kagawa) and his wife Mitsuko (Shinobu Terajima), to raise the puppy. Tawada leaves them with instructions not to scold the dog under any circumstance. Jonathan receives the new name of “Quill” for the “bird wings” mark on his side.

The mischievous Quill loves to throw Mitsuko’s sandals around and rip window screens, but his favorite plaything is a toy bear that squeaks when bitten. Later, Quill goes out on his first walk and soon becomes a town celebrity. Mitsuko explains to Quill everything he encounters, from cherry trees to birds and snakes. These days of merriment pass by in the blink of an eye. Before we know it Quill has reached his first birthday, the last day he is in the puppy-walkers’ care. On this day, during a long walk, Quill sees Mitsuko crying on a park bench and opens his mouth, which seems like an attempt to smile at her.

Quill is put on the rear deck of Tawada’s car and fades into the distance as it rolls away from the Nii home. As the couple vanishes into the distance, all Quill can do is whimper helplessly.

Life at the seeing-eye dog-training center begins. Quill exhibits his naivete and his way of doing things at his own pace. As the other dogs steadily advance, learning how to negotiate steps and avoid obstacles, Quill alone is left behind. Could it be that seeing-eye work isn’t in his blood? Just as Tawada, trainer of many outstanding seeing-eye dogs, is about to give up, he discovers a unique talent in Quill. When told to wait, Quill will stay calmly in the same spot for hours without moving.

Finally, Quill’s partner is decided. Mitsuru Watanabe (Kaoru Kobayashi) had always adamantly refused to have a seeing-eye dog, saying he would rather stay in bed than be pulled around by a dog. However, thanks to Tawada’s somewhat insistent recommendation and a trial walk with Quill, Watanabe himself requests the dog. Joint training commences at a camp for the vision-impaired and their seeing-eye dogs. The man and the dog have trouble communicating. Watanabe and Quill are not in step and the man even starts using his white walking stick. Then, little by little, Quill starts showing his kindness to Watanabe. One evening during voluntary training, a trivial incident causes Watanabe to open up his heart, and for the first time he starts to walk aided by Quill alone. The dog senses the man’s rhythm. Their shadows on the street gradually draw closer. The bond between Quill and his partner grows deeper with each passing day…until one day, they face a sudden and sorrowful parting.

Director: Yoichi Sai
Producer: Nozomu Enoki, Ichiro Yamamoto
Written by: Shoichi Maruyama, Yoshihiro Nakamura
Cinematographer: Junichi Fujisawa
Lighting: Masao Kanazawa
Production Designer: Riki Imamura
Sound Editing: Osamu Onodera
Editing: Isao Kawase
Dog Trainer: Tadami Miya
Music: Kuricorder Quartet
Music Producer: Tsugihiko Sasaki

Kaoru Kobayashi (Secret, Like Asura) as Mitsuru Watanabe
Kippei Shiina (Gonin, Jubaku: Spellbound) as Satoru Tawada
Teruyuki Kagawa (Doing Time, Devils on the Doorstep) as Isamu Nii
Keiko Toda (Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald) as Yoshiko Watanabe
Shinobu Terajima (Akame 48 Walterfalls) as Mistuko Nii
Tomoka Kurotani (Samurai Resurrection, Boxer Joe) as Masumi Kubo
Yuko Natori (Marks, The Discarnates) as Ren Mito

For more info: http://www.musicboxfilms.com/quill

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